People passing through Young Commons — the expansive lawn in front of Moseley Center — on Tuesday night could hear and see Elon University students reflecting upon experiences, sharing thoughts and commemorating the Black lives such as Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others that have been lost as a result of racial injustice in America.
Elon’s Black Student Union, which supports black students and promotes awareness of Black culture, held a physically distanced gathering to provide students and community members with the opportunity to stand or sit in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, address police brutality, structural racism and Black lives in America.
Hundreds of students and members of the Elon community gathered to listen and participate in a conversation facilitated by the Black Student Union to speak about racism in America. Elon University President Connie Book and Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley were among the crowd of attendees.
Elon senior Trent Dodson, who attended the Black solidarity event, said it's important to acknowledge the value of Black lives at Elon.
“I’m here because I am all for Black Lives Matter,” Dodson said. “I’m not saying that people here don’t believe in it, but our school is mostly white at this point. It’s all about spreading awareness and all about Black excellence and promoting Black people in general.”
Some Black students, like Dodson, have felt underrepresented on Elon’s campus.
“As a Black student here, it has sometimes been very hard,” Dodson said. “It’s hard to find a group to go into. I never felt like I fit in. That is why I think it is really important for people to understand what black people really go through.”
Dodson said conversations matter more now than ever before and the Elon community must come together to lift up the voices that are not being heard.
“I’m very impressed with the turnout,” Dodson said. “I am very happy to see a lot of my white counterparts here, that makes me really happy. I’m really here trying to support Black lives, Black accomplishments, and commemorate [those] who have lost their lives.”
Matisse Gilmore, who serves as the head of communications for the Black Student Union, said she is proud of how the event turned out.
“I am so proud of the outcome tonight. It is really great to know that a lot of students are supporting us and it gives me a lot of hope for the future,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said the community had a positive response to the event and that it was necessary for Elon to have a safe space to talk.
Elon sophomore and men’s basketball point guard Hunter McIntosh said the event is a moment of unity for the Elon community and that there is a difference between sympathy and empathy.
According to McIntosh, sympathy is saying “I understand” or “I’m sorry,” while empathy is showing up.
“I want to speak to the white community,” McIntosh said. “Empathy is showing up. Showing your voice. Showing your time. Showing that you care. Showing that you will be here for us as we stand in our struggle for equality.”
McIntosh said Tuesday’s event was not just a moment, rather the fight for equality is an ongoing occasion and encouraged the Black community to continue to share their stories and experiences.
“If you feel like your voice doesn’t matter, it does,” McIntosh said.“To both communities, coming together like this, building a bridge, engaging in conversations with people who are not like yourself who might have experienced things other than what you have experienced.”
McIntosh said that for growth to occur, the conversations people have will be uncomfortable.
“Everyone here has different abilities, talents that can be used,” McIntosh said. “No effort for change is too insignificant. Your sphere of influence is bigger than what you realize.”
McIntosh urged community members to use their individual talents to keep progressing society forward and to register to vote.
“Not to get too political,” McIntosh said. “Change in leadership might be good for this country.”
McIntosh was supported by head coach of Elon men’s basketball, Mike Schrage.
“I wanted to support the Black Student Union,” Schrage said. “The first thing everybody here has to say is — and we got to convince everyone on this campus to say is — Black Lives Matter.”
Schrage said he was proud of everyone in attendance and the conversation on structural racism in America must continue.
“I have not lived or experienced being Black,” Schrage said. “I have heard it. I have seen it. I have felt it, especially from our team and the conversations we have had. It is time to make a change on this campus, in this community, in this country.”
The Black Student Union wants the Elon community to do more.
The speakers at the event acknowledged that conversations are a starting point and listening is crucial for change. According to the Gilmore, in order for the Elon community to be unified, everyone must listen, learn and pass it on.
“We needed this,” Gilmore said. “The community needed this. We needed to have a space for people to be able to talk and express themselves.”